By Grace Alone

Photo by niu niu on Unsplash

I was in pastoral ministry for more than 20 years of my life. I had been involved in church my whole life and involved in some sort of ministry for the majority of that time, even before I was “called to preach.” I was a church kid and, as an adult, thought I knew the problems with church and also how to fix them.

When my dad and I started a church, I thought I knew how it should be done correctly. In one iteration of that church, I even coined the slogan, “Recovering the Biblical Church.” The pride of that slogan is striking to me now.

One of the main things I began to think I was right on, while everyone else was off, was salvation. How one was saved. How one “stayed” saved. And, most importantly, how to tell if one was genuinely saved.

Let me preface this by saying that I fully affirm, then and now, that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, based on the finished work of Christ alone, as taught in Scripture alone, all to the glory of God alone. You may recognize those as the 5 Solas. I affirmed all that in word, but lived and preached differently.

Let me be more specific. My error, and a grave one it was, was to basically add works on after salvation, to somehow prove or confirm that one was actually saved. It would go something like this,

If you don’t obey the commands of God, then you’re not a Christian.

Then I would proof text a verse like John 14:15 where Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”

Sometimes I would be more subtle. I would say something along the lines of

If you obey God’s commands then there is blessing and favor from God.

As if somehow one can earn God’s favor or cause him to love you more if you’re obedient. In essence, I was adding works to a grace based relationship. This was a colossal error and one that is prevalent in many churches, including the ones in the 1st century. I turned a grace based relationship into a performance based religion.

The bible is clear that as Christians, under the new covenant, that the role of the law is to show us we are sinners in need of a savior, not for the purpose of living up to some impossible standard that cannot be attained. That’s the point, to show us that we cannot attain it and need Jesus, who did!

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ . . . since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. -Galatians 2:16

Authors David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse sum it up beautifully,

God did not give the Law so that people could become right with Him based upon their lawful behaviors. Neither are lawful behaviors the way to remain right with God. Right relationship with God is a settled gift because of what God did through Christ. You can’t earn it. You can only have it for free.

In my zeal to “fix” the church or to do it right this time, I fear I had begun to preach a gospel that was no gospel at all. I pray that God will forgive me.

I trust he has as he has brought me out of that world into a church full of love and grace. One I never expected to find that in, but isn’t that just like God.

If you have trusted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, please don’t go back to a performance based way of life that leads to bondage. You were in bondage to sin before. Don’t replace the chains of sin for the chains of the Law. Be free.

In [this] freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off]. -Galatians 5:1

Go. Be disciples. Make disciples. Be Keepers of the Way. You are free to do so.

Love one another.

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Allen Johnsey

Allen Johnsey

Follower of Jesus Christ | Keeper of the Way | Husband | Father | Stepfather | Musician | Occasional Blogger | Aspiring Podcaster | Director of Ministries FUMC